A series of long ledges lead to East Black Peak. Ron Chase photos

For me, Labor Day marks the beginning of a change in my outdoor activities. Paddle sports are winding down and fall mountain hiking is gearing up. Not one to quickly surrender the joys of kayaking, for many years, I’ve eased into the transition by planning what I call surf-and-turf outings. These adventures are loosely described as paddling to a secluded location and using it as base camp to climb mountains. I prefer to get my “mountain legs” by starting with smaller, scenic peaks.

The picturesque mountains of Donnell Pond Public Lands meet that criterion. Located in central Hancock County near the Town of Franklin, the lands consist of over 14,000 heavily forested acres that include several rugged mountains enveloping isolated ponds and lakes. An extensive trail system meanders over and around the summits that dominate the conservation area. Numerous campsites have been established along the shores of the lakes and ponds.

While it’s possible to connect with some mountain trailheads by road, the campsites can only be reached by hiking or watercraft. That’s fine with me, since I prefer to load my sea kayak and paddle to one of the remote locations. And difficult access minimizes crowds.

One of my favorite encampments in the reserve is Schoodic Beach on the extreme southern shore of Donnell Pond. Maintained by the Maine Bureau of Public Lands, the long, sandy beach offers several sites with picnic tables and toilets. Trailheads for Black and Schoodic Mountains begin at the beach, and the paddling distance from a public landing in Franklin is about 3 miles.

Schoodic Mountain provides remarkable views of the surrounding area.

An excellent, two-day weather forecast in early September inspired me to invite several outdoor friends on a Donnell Pond surf-and-turf trip. Three of the usual suspects agreed to join me.

We met at the Franklin boat landing on the western terminus of Donnell Pond on a hot, steamy day with light winds predicted. Three of us were in solo sea kayaks while the fourth chose a canoe.


Paddling due east for a couple of miles towards prominent Caribou Mountain, we turned south into a narrow channel opposite Redmans Beach Campsites. A trailhead for Caribou Mountain starts at the beach. Our goal was the more impressive peaks farther south.

Continuing in a southerly direction, a gentle tailwind helped propel us towards Schoodic Beach. The distinctive cliffs of Black Mountain towered above our destination. Approaching the expansive sandy beach, we spotted colorful tents on both ends. Fortuitously, ample space remained available in the center. We found an excellent shaded site with a picnic table.

After setting up tents and changing into hiking gear, the turf portion of our excursion began. Black Mountain Cliffs Loop Trail originates and ends at the beach. Hiking clockwise, we persisted steeply up the wooded northwest side of the cliffs and then along the rim.

Our map indicated it was 1.3 miles to a junction leading to Black and East Black Peaks. An unusual amount of time elapsed without locating the junction and then we began to descend. Consulting a GPS did not resolve the dilemma. We decided to backtrack. Fortunately, the well-concealed East Peak Trail was finally discovered.

Leaving the loop trail, we progressed north over a hilly route to a rounded high point. Unmarked, it appeared to be the forested Black Mountain summit.

The path towards East Peak declined steeply to a soggy area and then ascended gradually over partially open rocky terrain. A series of long ledges led us to the spectacular barren summit. Although the skies were hazy, we enjoyed sweeping views of the surrounding area before beginning our return.


Following hours of hiking in hot, humid weather, our trek ended with a very refreshing swim in the pond. Camping that night was idyllic.

After a leisurely breakfast the following morning, we completed a hike on exceptionally scenic Schoodic Mountain. The open summit offers marvelous views of the mountains of Mount Desert Island.

A moderate headwind resulted in a challenging paddle during our return to the landing in Franklin. Ours was an extremely enjoyable excursion in an outdoor paradise.

My book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine,” relates a Moosehead Lake and Mount Kineo surf-and-turf and nine mountain hikes around the state.

Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is available at northcountrypress.com/maine-al-fresco or in bookstores and through online retailers. His previous books are “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England.” Visit his website at ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at ronchaseoutdoors@comcast.net.

A hiker reaches the barren summit of East Black Peak.

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